Mmmm Mmmm Mujadara

I wish I could tell you a warm and fuzzy story about how mujadara has always been a special dish in the family. Truth be told, mujadara was far from my favorite growing up. Lentils don’t hold a lot of kid-appeal, which is why I’m always astonished when my friend Rebecca tells me her children eat a lot of lentils and love them. For me and my siblings, lentils were to be avoided; we walked far away from the table when lentils were on it, like my little nephew does whenever he sees a dog nearby. You wonder where he’s going and then realize he’s circling the park, walking far out of his way to avoid that dog. It might bite.

I try to remind myself of my childhood aversion to mujadara whenever my nephew looks in terror at something I’ve placed before him on his plate. Usually I beg him to at least taste it, or I ask him if he’s read Green Eggs and Ham? And he usually has a response like “eggs are NOT green.” It’s not like I’ve tried to feed him mujadara; we’re just talking about mashed potatoes, or green bits of anything in anything, or any scoop of one food touching another—and he goes kind of crazy, as though a huge, fierce dog is going to sink his teeth in and never let go.


During my graduate school years, I was enamored with my first apartment and most of all with having a kitchen to call my own. I got into some heavy thinking about all kinds of things, and for a short time, swore off of meat (religion too). Mom was concerned, mostly about my ability to maintain good nutrition, especially knowing my propensity at that point to skip meals in favor of candy or nothing at all. But her response was one that I’ve never forgotten. Instead of asking me in disbelief how I would survive without kibbeh, or her all time favorite, a hamburg, she gave me a vegetarian cookbook. This was the first cookbook to don my bookshelf; it was beautiful, and I was mesmerized. It was from this book that I first made the divine smoothness of pureed leek and potato soup, and I’ve been making it ever since.

She also gave me the recipe for mujadara, and told me about why it’s so good for you. The combination of lentils with rice or cracked wheat forms a perfect protein, along with the fiber and other nutrients much needed in a diet that doesn’t include meat. Her approach to my swearing off of meat (we won’t go into what my parents thought about me dumping on my religion, which was also short-lived) charmed me into walking right up to the big bad doggie of lentils and putting the back of my hand in its face.


My first tries at mujadara were just ok, producing a mush that still tasted fine but giving off an aroma from the deeply caramelized (or in my case, burnt) onions that was so strong it permeated the woodwork. I think I can still smell those early batches in my hair today. I’ve since discovered that in some areas of Lebanon, mujadara is in fact pureed, so my mush could probably have passed for something other than a mistake. And Aunt Rita casually mentioned recently that she caramelizes her onions in vegetable oil because with the olive oil, the onions burn easily and the whole house smells of it for days. A revelation.

One of the great things about mujadara is that you can make it on a whim with ingredients you likely already have in the pantry. This is peasant food, food that developed out of need. But in the hands of the Lebanese women who throughout history have known instinctively how to make all food taste good, the ingredients were transformed into a beloved dish that, approached with a little gentleness and charm, could coax even the most stubborn (albeit adult) palate into submission.

Mujadara
Cracked wheat can be used in place of the rice, and happens to be my favorite way to eat mujadara. There is some question as to how far the onions should be taken in the caramelization process. They must be dark, very dark golden brown. Some of the onions will verge on burnt. But entirely burnt onions will produce a bitter mujadara and the onions won’t ‘melt’ into the lentils and rice as they should when they are soft. Mujadara is delicious eaten with labne, flatbread, a green salad, and if you want to get fancy, some crispy fried onions strings on top.

1 cup whole brown or green large lentils, sorted and rinsed
¼ cup canola oil
4 cups diced yellow onion (½-inch)
1 cup long grain rice OR coarse cracked wheat (#3 grade)
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon olive oil

For fried onion garnish (optional):
1 large onion cut in very thin rings
canola oil for frying

Place lentils in a small saucepan with 2 cups of water. Bring to boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer until lentils are par-cooked, 10-15 minutes. Remove from heat. Be careful not to overcook here; the idea is to par-cook the lentils.

In a large, heavy sauté or sauce pan (with a lid), heat the canola oil over medium high heat. Add the onions and cook until deep golden brown, about 20 minutes, stirring frequently to avoid burning. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt as the onions cook.

Take the onions off the heat and add 2 cups of water. Place back on the heat and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for five minutes. The liquid will take on the deep golden color of the onions and the onions will continue to soften.

Add the rice and par-cooked lentils (and their liquid) to the onion mixture. Cover and bring to a boil. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and pepper. Reduce heat to low and cook until the liquid has been absorbed and the rice and lentils are cooked through. The texture of the rice and lentils is somewhat al dente. Take care not to overcook or the mixture will become mushy. Remove from heat and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve hot, warm, or room temperature drizzled with olive oil.

For fried onion garnish, heat canola oil over high heat in a small saucepan (the small saucepan reduces the amount of oil needed for depth). When a small piece of onion dropped into the oil floats to the top and bubbles vigorously, the oil is ready. Fry the onion rings in batches until golden brown, reducing heat as needed to prevent burning. Remove and drain on paper towel. Place the onions on top of the mujadara on a serving platter or individual plates.

Print this recipe here.

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80 Responses to Mmmm Mmmm Mujadara

  1. Lucy says:

    Maureen ,

    It seems the Lentil post , inspired you eh ?

    Hugs

  2. Vicky says:

    I will definitely go with canola oil next time–it is true that olive oil has a lower boiling point but I was so unconsciously wedded to it I never thought to change.

    • Maureen Abood says:

      Funny how that works; I hadn’t thought of changing either, even though canola has been such a revelation in the last year. Can always get the flavor with a drizzle of olive oil when it’s all done.

      • Vicky says:

        Yes, I’m going to do the drizzle. Also, I’d never deglazed the pan after frying the onions before, and I like how that is coming out.

        • Maureen Abood says:

          Oh good–I think it’s the key to getting a dark brown mujadara (more appetizing) and to getting everything well-flavored with the onion!

  3. Roger Toomey says:

    Lentils were never a favorite of mine. Could this be done with small dried beans such as great northerns or black eyed peas?

    • Maureen Abood says:

      Ohhh, that’s clever Roger. I bet so. The key would be to watch the cook time so the beans don’t go to mush. Let me know….

  4. Love the story. I, too, discovered lentils while exploring vegetarianism as a college student. They are one of the few choices I made in that era that have stood the test of time. As of Jan 1 I have once again “gone veg”, in sympathy with my dabbling daughter. But only for 2 months. And there is a weekly venison clause…

    Lentils tonight!

    • Maureen Abood says:

      I commend your solidarity with your daughter, Greg! These lentils will be just the ticket. I just brought home a loaf of Epi from your Crooked Tree Breadworks this afternoon…I could eat the whole thing in one sitting on its own or with nutella or my apricot jam or butter…..it’s amazing.

  5. Gregory Jarous GA says:

    We always had mujadara on Fridays, no meat and when coming home from school as a child you could smell the onions from a block away. Mmmm Mmmm Good Stuff

    • Maureen Abood says:

      I bet those onions brought you in like the Pied Piper! Great memory. My mother talks about how they always had mujadara on Fridays too.

  6. When I was traveling in Ecuador last year, I had a great dish of lentils and rice. I wrote it down to remind myself to make it. I never did, but this recipe reminds me of it – I want to make your recipe over the weekend. PERFECT for a cold winter day! I love your photographs!

    • Maureen Abood says:

      Hi there! Thank you for reading and commenting. Interesting that a similar dish was made in Ecuador, and great that you will make this one soon. It will be delicious! All the best–

  7. Roger Toomey says:

    Tried it with great northern beans and brown rice. Always like the microwave when I can. Soaked beans a few hours then added water and microwaved for an hour. (Didn’t measure as I should) Fried the onions then added them and rice to the half cooked beans. Also added beef powder and a little liquid smoke. I know that takes from the vegetarian but added flavor. More water and back in the microwave for an hour. Came out as a good side dish. I do think that a little sweet potato or butternut squash or carrots
    would add more color and flavor. I would think that adding ketchup or tomato juice would help and might give it a little more Lebanese flavor as tomatoes tend to go into everything.

    • Maureen Abood says:

      This is fantastic Roger. You are a great cook, experimenting like that!!

      • Susannah says:

        How would using brown rice change the cooking time and amount of water needed? On the stove, not in the microwave.

        • Maureen Abood says:

          Susannah, that is a great question. Try an additional 1/2 cup of liquid for 1 cup of brown rice (the ratio of rice:liquid for brown rice is 1:1.5) and cooking time may be 10 minutes or so longer (taste to test). I’d love to know how it comes out for you Susannah!

  8. Karen A says:

    Yes! I too was not a fan growing up but now I crave Mujadara.Great blog, traditional recipes and photos too. Thank you for beautiful pictures and perfect recipes to share with my friends.

    • Maureen Abood says:

      Thanks so much for that Karen! Great to see you here!

      • sally oneill says:

        We recently had this dish at a restaurant in Myrtle beach. It was the first time I had had mujadara and I loved it. The owner of the restaurant told me how to make it. She is Lebanese and uses lentils, rice and onions but only uses allspice . Most recipes also use cumin. Have you ever made it with this spice?

        • Maureen Abood says:

          Hi Sally–how great that you talked with the restaurant owner about how to make mujadara. We don’t use cumin much at all in our Lebanese cooking, but many regions do. And for mujadara, we don’t add the cinnamon or allspice–but for many, many recipes, we do! It’s just a matter of various traditions and tastes. Please let me know if you make some…thanks for writing!

          • Lara says:

            I do not believe that to be true as my family in Lebanon and pretty much every Lebanese household I have ever known goes through cumin like salt, per se.

  9. Diane Nassir (My maternal grandmother was an Abowd) says:

    Loved mujadera even as a kid–must have been the lingering smell of the ‘burnt’ onions, in olive oil–Maureen, I was laughing hard, outloud, the whole time I read your utterly charming column. Every one of your columns evokes such tender memories for me of my beloved Mother–I always helped her spread out the lentils on the table and hand sort each lentil off the edge of the table and into the pot, so that every dreaded little rock could be culled out of the lot–yes I am older than dirt (68) so I remember this essential process.
    Thank you for the memories!

  10. Sarah says:

    As a Lebanese girl who grew up eating my Sitto’s mjedera, I have to suggest that you use cinnamon and seven spice when sautéing the onion (or a cinnamon stick in place of powdered cinnamon). I can’t imagine mjedera without those favors – they are needed if you want the true, traditional version of the dish. Your recipe otherwise is fantastic. Also, yoghurt on top of the mjedera is a fantastic garnish. Sahtein! :)

    • Suzanne says:

      I was thinking the same thing. Being Armenian, I don’t see any depth of flavor in this recipe. I would think some cumin would be a great addition as well.

    • Holly says:

      How much cinnamon and how much 7 spices? I came back from a trip to Turkey with some delicious smelling 7 spices and am looking for recipes to use it in. Thanks.

      • Maureen Abood says:

        Hi Holly–I don’t use cinnamon or 7 spices in mujadara, but to start I would try a 1/4 teaspoon of each!

  11. Irina says:

    Hello :)
    I discovered this dish by accident at a Middle Eastern deli a few weeks ago; I intended to buy something completely different, but the clerk gave me a spoonful of this to try, and my lunch plans changed immediately. I googled the recipe as I was eating my purchased mujadara, because it was so good that I had to know what was in it. I found your recipe to be the most inviting (it’s your blog, it looks so lovely) and tried it out the next day. It was perfect, and very favorably received by everyone I foisted it upon (four people… so far). This recipe, to my mind, is perfect: the ingredients are simple and dirt cheap, the proportions are committed to memory immediately, and the result is so good it almost feels like cheating: it shouldn’t be this easy and inexpensive to make something this tasty! So I just wanted to come back here and thank you; I’ll be making mountains of this stuff for years to come :)

    • Maureen Abood says:

      What a wonderful comment! How great to hear about your experience trying mujadara for the first time, and then enjoying making it yourself!! Please keep me posted on your cooking adventures…..

  12. Penelope says:

    About 25 years ago I once worked in a Lebanese restaurant that made the *best* mujadera I have ever tasted. The restaurant has since closed (really a shame) and I often wished I could find the former owners to beg for the mujadera recipe. By far – it was one of the most popular dishes far and wide. They used cracked wheat (bulgar) instead of rice and your recipe seems to be the closest to how I remember them making it – in huge batches no less. I’m excited to make this today – with a side of homemade yogurt or leban and a crispy fattoush. Thank you for the recipe — life is good! <3

  13. gail keeber says:

    Hi! I have been looking for a recipe for Mujadera for forever!!! I love it, and bought a middle east cookbook because it had a recipe for Mujadrera, but it did not taste anything like I had tasted before. My 84 year old Mom dated a Lebanese gentleman and I had hope of finding a recipe through him, but he had no idea how to cook. I am going to try this tomorrow! I can’t wait!

  14. Jasmine says:

    My great-grandparents were Lebanese, and though unfortunately not a lot of recipes have made it through the generations, I have happy memories of what I only knew of as ‘judra’. I’m very pleased to learn that it is indeed a real Lebanese dish!
    My nanna also used to make a vermicilli-and-rice dish that we called sherria, and small mince balls that we called coobie. Do they sound like they might have some resemblance to Lebanese recipes?

    • Pam says:

      Coobie sounds like kibbee. Which is ground beef mixed with chopped green onion and fresh minced parsley seasoned with a little salt and pepper then molded into short hot dog shapes then either grilled or broiled. The rice is simply noodles browned in oil and then cooked with the rice (sort of like Rice-A-Roni). Good luck!

  15. Mimi says:

    Hi! I tried Mujadara for the first time at a lebanese restaurant that I frequent often. I fell in love with it and immediately began looking for a recipe for it. I found yours and I can say that yours tastes delicious! I folowed your recipe exactly, exept I added a pinch of cumin and allspice and I used a red onion. I put in on a thick homestyle tortilla with some tomatoe and I was in heaven! lol

  16. Micha says:

    Making this for my Lebanese husband. Hope it turns out OK…..have tried loads of things but they’re always a flop. My husband has told me to give up, but want to master this ” Lebanese Cooking ” thing.

  17. jackie says:

    Maureen,
    How can I carmelize onions without using the oil? I am cooking for a person who follows the whole food based diet and is gluten-free? Thanks

    • Maureen Abood says:

      Hi Jackie–thanks for a great question. You can caramelize the onions in a slow-cooker (10-12 hours) with some broth (chicken or vegetable), then transfer to a saute pan, add par-cooked lentils and water, and go from there. I haven’t tried this, so I’d love to know how it comes out for you!

  18. Angela says:

    Hi! I am half Lebanese and this was one of my favorite dishes growing up. I have always tried to duplicate my grandmother’s cooking but nothing ever tastes quite like hers! Most traditional Lebanese food takes a lot of time and preparation and I’m fairly lazy! I just finished using your recipe, which was very easy to follow. The end result tastes really good but, like you mentioned about your first attempts, mine was kind of mushy and some of the rice was a little hard still. Have you found a way to avoid this? I had to add more water after the first two cups because there wasn’t enough to cook the rice and it was sticking to the bottom of the pan. Either way, it still tastes yummy! The tip about using the regular oil for frying the onions was a lifesaver. I always think I have to use olive oil for Lebanese food but my onions never turned out right. This time, they were perfect! Thanks!

    Angela

  19. Don Golden says:

    I grew up in Maine and of course had never heard of Mujadara. I then went to law school in Lansing, Michigan and I was introduced to it by a friend. There as a great Lebanese deli type of place and I fell in love with Mujadara, Falafel, and other great dishes. The Mujadara was my favorite though. I now live in Florida and I have not been able to find any place that makes Mujadara. I can’t wait to try this recipe.

  20. Jumana says:

    Wonderful recipe! I was just wondering though, when adding the lentils to the onion and water mixture, should I add the water the lentils were cooked in too? Or should I drain the lentils first and add them without the water?

  21. Greg says:

    Hamdillah I found this. I fell in love with mujedera after having it at the mosque I converted at. I have been looking for a recipe for this ever since. Now that my fiancée is threatening vegetarianism I am glad to have found this! I applaud her for wanting to eat healthier and this will be a great dish especially as it is a whole protein. Thanks for the post!! Do you throw any seasonings into the dish?

    Chef tip – if you want to stop the onions from burning as they are getting close to being dark enough just add a splash of water or stock. The little bit of moisture helps to break the onions down while preventing them from sticking and therefore burning to the pan.

    • Maureen Abood says:

      Greg, thank you–there are many ways to season the mujadara; our tradition is salt and pepper only for this but many use allspice, cumin, cinnamon or other seasonings.

  22. Bryce says:

    Maureen,

    There’s a small Mediterranean grocer and deli down the street from me here in Oklahoma City, which is where I first tried mujadara. (I might add – there seems to be a hundred different spellings for the dish: this place calls it ‘mujadra.’) I’ve always wanted to attempt to make it at home, and somehow found my way to your recipe. I tried making it tonight, and while it tasted great (much like the deli I love – minimal seasoning; I’ve never detected cumin or any other spice in their version, for what it’s worth), I ended up with some less than desirable textures, with the rice being undercooked and the rest being mushy. Towards the end of the cooking process, just before the boiling point for the rice, it started to stick to the bottom of the pan and burn, and all of the liquid was absorbed way too early. I added another cup of water, but by then it was too late. Any suggestions?

  23. marion estephan says:

    Mujadra is one of our favorite dishes.My husband loves his plain and my kids and I love addind lemon juice to ours.

  24. Lynn says:

    I have eaten majdra all my life and loved it as a kid but have never mastered the onions either…can’t wait to try the canola oil. what is it about fridays that make us want comforting carbs? bulgar wheat is an absolute! Not rice!

  25. Chris says:

    Hi ! Thanks for posting this ! I have come to love this dish from living in Dearborn Mi, where we have access to a lot of wonderful Lebanese foods. I bought brown lentils and cracked wheat to make it, but I’m wondering about the cracked wheat. Is it treated exactly the same way as the rice as far as cooking time, etc. ? And if you use the wheat, do you have the same protein value ? Thanks, Chris

    • Maureen Abood says:

      Hi Chris! I use the same amount of time for rice or cracked wheat. Bulgur has about 5-6 grams of protein in a cup (cooked), whereas rice has about 4 grams.

  26. Kate says:

    This was lovely. Thank you for the recipe. Son #2 ate three helpings (he’s four).

    We have many friends in Harbor Springs. Great to find your blog.

    Kate

  27. Rebecca Karam says:

    Thanks for sharing this recipe! I tried it out tonight and my mujadra was *so* much better. I usually end up with the burnt-onion mush!

  28. Cassandra says:

    Just made this today for tomorrow – can’t wait to taste it after it’s had a chance to set a bit! I found your blog through a comment you made for a similar recipe in Food52! I’ve made the yogurt Rivka suggested, but followed your recipe exactly! Can’t wait to explore your blog a bit more! Thank you for sharing!

  29. Jodi Duron says:

    Hi Maureen — I’m Lebanese and I too have fond memories of cooking with my Sitto’s and mom growing up. I’ve perused many of your posted recipes and they are as close, if not exact, to the way my family has cooked these dishes. There can be so many variations with different spices and so forth, but yours resonate “home” to me. Last night I made your mujadara recipe….it was superb! Thank you for your posts and for sharing these golden recipes with us! What a treat!

    Jodi
    Elgin, Texas

    • Maureen Abood says:

      How special, Jodi! I’m so happy to know that we share a similar approach to our Lebanese dishes. Thank you for sharing and please do keep in touch!

  30. Donna Nakhle says:

    My husband is Lebanese and prides himself on his traditional cooking. Most is just fine although when it comes to his mujadarah he refuses to listen to me about the cook time and the fact that he mashes them to a pulp! He insists this is the way his mother did it. Please tell me this is done in some regions, I really prefer them not mashed, and not pulverized, and wish I had a fact to rely on to prevent his devotion to the blender!

    • Maureen Abood says:

      Hello Donna! I have seen some recipes that do make the mujadara pulverized, so I can see how it may be that your mother-in-law made it that way–BUT, the other version, like mine, is the only way it is prepared in my extended clan and by everyone I know who makes it!

  31. Nicole says:

    Hello! I am 2nd generation Lebanese and my Sittie made her mujadara with rice and it was very mushy, just like a porridge (oh, how amazing it was!) with the sautéed onions on top. Although many in family would joke that the mujadara was POW (prisoner of war) food, it was the most amazing dish ever and I looked forward to that meal every Friday evening!

    Happy New Year to you!

  32. Joan says:

    I lived on 26th St and Lexington in NYC for 20 years and loved every minute of my years in “little Pakistan” eating curry and the like 3-4 x a week. My almost daily stop was Kalustyans a fabulous Lebanese spice store that offered the most amazing mujadara ever. So good that I dared not try to reproduce it when I moved away years ago. I have never seen it made with Bulgur which is the way that they made it on Lexington Ave. This is the closest and most delicious I have had in years…thanks for this great recipe!!

    • Maureen Abood says:

      That’s great news Joan, thank you! And a great memory of your mujadara at Kalustyans–I’m a big fan of their online store for so many great imports.

  33. Mona says:

    Can you used canned Lentils? I love this dish… so simple, but so delicious.

    • Maureen Abood says:

      Hi Mona–I have never eaten canned lentils! My only concern is if they are very soft out of the can, they may overcook in the mujadara. If you do try it, skip the par-cooking of the lentils, and add the drained canned lentils when you add the rice or bulgur. You’ll only need enough liquid to cook the rice or bulgur, since the lentils are already cooked.

  34. alan schechner says:

    Great recipe, loved it used frieke instead of bulghur and added a touch of cinamon cumin and finished of with a drop of lemon juice. Thanks

    • Maureen Abood says:

      Freekeh mujadara sounds delicious–clever!! Nice with the lemon juice too; I often eat mujadara topped with an arugula salad dressed in lemon vinaigrette.

  35. Chris J says:

    Saw this in a cookbook and quickly snapped a high rez pic and made it today. The caramaleized onions will really transform this dish, I think, from mundane to marvelous…just a feeling. It’s cooking now. This recipe also contains toasted almonds, sliced dried apricots, but no cumin or middle eastern spices. Odd. But still–it smells delightful.

    Just checked and the rice isn’t quite cooked, so I added a bit more broth and a bit more time. Hopeful!

    • Maureen Abood says:

      Delicious! Our traditional mujadara is not heavily spiced, salt and pepper only. But nice to experiment!

      • Sally Wolff says:

        I may try variations later,but this is a good basic recipe I will cook. Good staples to add to my emergency pantry foods too!

  36. Sally Wolff says:

    Just made it for lunch.I need to fry up more onions next time. Looks
    like the kids enjoyed it. Having it for dinner.

    Thanks for sharing. What a great meal with a salad and perhaps some bread. Can’t complain about the cost either! Found you looking for this recipe. Staying to check out more.Could you make the lentil burger a print/pdf? Been saving recipes to the phone.

  37. Laila says:

    Thank you for your comprehensive recipe. I only had green lentils and was looking for the best recipe and yours is the authentic deal, I spent 30 minutes finding the right one. Moujadara was always my favorite meal as a child, we had it with salad my other favorite food. Well lebanese style salad_The best. Haven’t had Moojie (our nickname for it growing up) in decades! Thank you Maureen.
    Gotta go and start carmalizing the onions.

    • Maureen Abood says:

      I’m so glad you found this Lalia! Thanks so much for taking a moment to comment. Enjoy the Moojie!

  38. Ann says:

    Maureen,
    My mother was an awesome Arabic cook and I liked just about everything she made EXCEPT MUJADARA! Lately I bought it already prepared at a Middle Eastern Grocery Store.and loved it except that, in my opinion, it was too oily. So in looking for a recipe, I found you web site. I really enjoyed reading how you too disliked Mujadara as a child. My mother made a fantastic lentil soup that I’m going to try. Glad I found you and your recipes.

    • Maureen Abood says:

      That is great!! I think this version will win you over (not at all too oily), and your lentil soup sounds like a winner too….

  39. Issam says:

    That’s a fantastic recipe for the much appreciated mujadara. May I add a little detail about a “side” dish that can go well with? In Tripoli (Lebanon) where I grew up, it is usual to prepare a side dish by combining yogourt (laban) with diced cucumber (peeled and core removed), plus a sprinkle of dried mint leaves on top. It seems to balance the “dryness” of the mujadara. By the way, the core of cucumber is not to be wasted: it has a cooling and refreshing effect and can be used as a quick mask.

 

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